This week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that CitiBank would sponsor the city’s new bike share program, Citi Bike, slated to roll out this summer. The five-year deal for a reported $41 million will allow the ambitious bicycle sharing program to operate without any taxpayer money or city funds. CitiBank, in return, will have all of the bikes emblazoned with its bright cobalt blue logo on the bicycles.
By next year, 10,000 bikes docked at 600 Citi Bike stations throughout Manhattan will give both residents and visitors the opportunity to quicken their commutes, visit neighborhoods difficult to access by public transportation and make New York City and its 700 miles of bike paths a bicycling haven. For now, the program will only serve Manhattan as the bike share program will focus on highly trafficked areas, but the program will create about 200 jobs at a service facility in Brooklyn.
Citi Bike’s goal is to provide another vital transport link for New Yorkers. Over half of the trips made in Manhattan are less than two miles long. The pricing model is similar to car sharing services like Zipcar. Users pay an annual fee of $95. Low income Yorkers will qualify for a reduced rate of $60, which they can pay quarterly if they sign up for a low-cost banking program at a local credit union. For annual members, each bicycle ride is free for the first 45 minutes. For a ride less than 75 minutes, the cost is a modest $2.50. But the longer the ride is, the more expensive the journey becomes, up to $9 an hour. Such a rate is meant to keep a steady stream of bicycles available. And as is the case with NYC’s MetroCard transit pass program, there is a short period of time allowed between free commutes, so users cannot “game” the system. Visitors to New York can purchase one-month or one-week memberships, but the trips are only then free for the first 30 minutes.
CitiBank’s sponsorship shows that bicycling in not only surging in popularity, but can be big business. New York City had released a request for proposal searching for companies that would run the bicycle sharing program like a business. Alta Bicycle Share, which operates similar businesses in Boston and soon in Chicago, was selected to run the program, and will split the profits with the city.
Those blue bicycles could just be the biggest splash of color to hit Manhattan since those yellow cabs started to hit the streets years ago. With cities like Los Angeles and Washington DC becoming more bicycle-friendly, could the next step on the bicycling agenda be a bicycle superhighway?
Photo courtesy Citi Bike.